Attitudes Toward Deaf Individuals

This is a screenshot of a document discussing attitudes toward deaf individuals. The text covers research findings about societal attitudes, the relationship between attitudes and expectations, and factors influencing attitudes toward deaf individuals. The document emphasizes the importance of understanding and promoting positive interactions between hearing and deaf individuals.


For deaf people, negative attitudes from deaf and hearing people can be a barrier to healthy social and emotional development,22 social integration,17 and academic and career success.19 Societal attitudes toward deaf people is an important research topic for the following reasons:

  • Attitudes toward deaf people are critical aspects of integration into social and academic
  • Knowledge of attitudes toward deaf people contributes to understanding and positive interactions between hearing and deaf people.15

What does the research tell us about attitudes toward deaf people?

Researchers have assessed attitudes toward people with disabilities, as well as deaf people specifically. Their findings include the following:

  • Negative attitudes toward people with disabilities have existed throughout history and still exist today.8
  • Attitudes toward deaf people differ from attitudes toward people with other disabilities.16
  • Hearing people have been found to hold more negative attitudes toward people with an intellectual disability than toward deaf people.7,10

“Attitudes toward people with disabilities represent an individual’s disposition to respond favorably or unfavorably to those with a physical or mental disability.”1

What is the relationship between attitudes and expectations?

  • Attitudes can be conveyed through expectations; people tend to internalize and fulfill the expectations others have of them.6
  • Parental expectations strongly influence their deaf children’s future achievement across several factors:5
    • Independent living
    • Postsecondary enrollment and completion
    • Employment
  • The belief that deaf people have limited occupational opportunities is a reflection of negative attitudes toward deaf people and their potential for career success.20

The following factors also influence attitudes toward deaf people:

  • Age and gender: The relationship between age and gender and attitudes toward deaf people is unclear, in that research findings on this topic have been mixed.7
  • Self-esteem: People with higher self-esteem report a more positive attitude toward deaf people.7
  • Contact with deaf people: More familiarity or contact with deaf people tend to be related to more positive attitudes, but the type of experience is a critical factor.7,11,24

How is audism a barrier to attitudinal change?

Negative attitudes toward deaf people are created and perpetuated by societal beliefs and behaviors that assume the superiority of hearing over deaf people. This belief structure is known as audism,3
which has been defined in several ways:

  • The idea that superiority comes from the ability to hear or from acting like a person who hears14
  • A societal system of advantage based on hearing ability18
  • An orientation that links human identity with speech4

Examples of how audism manifests in the United States:3

  • Efforts to make deaf children more like hearing children
  • The idea that deafness is a deficiency and should be “fixed”
  • Systems of power, especially in education and medicine, that favor hearing over deafness, and speech over signing

Some factors that perpetuate audism and limit the development of positive relationships between hearing and deaf people include the following:21

  • Limited communication skills of both hearing and deaf people
  • Deaf people’ perception of hearing people’ negative attitudes
  • Unfamiliarity with deafness and limited meaningful contact with deaf people


Recommendations for Promoting Positive Attitudes Toward Deaf Individuals

  • Administrators and professionals at academic institutions can foster a culture that is inclusive and accommodating of diverse people.
  • Changes in attitudes are shaped by positive experiences with deaf people, which break down negative stereotypes, and increased awareness, which can be developed through educational workshops, courses, and training activities.9,12
  • Within school and workplace settings, introduce collaborative group activities to strengthen social relationships while building communication skills for both deaf and hearing people.
  • Teach a “social/cultural view of being deaf” that is aligned with more accepting and empowering attitudes toward deaf people.13

1 Ajzen, I. (1989). Attitude structure and behavior. In A. R. Pratkanis, S. J. Breckler, & A. G. Greenwald (Eds.), Attitude structure and function (pp. 241–274). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

2 Antonak, R. F., & Livneh, H. (2000). Measurement of attitudes toward persons with disabilities. Disability and Rehabilitation, 22, 211–224.

3 Bauman, H-D. L. (2004). Audism: Exploring the metaphysics of oppression. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 9(2), 239–246. doi:10.1093/deafed/enh025

4 Brueggemann, B. (1999). Lend me your ear: Rhetorical constructions of deafness. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

5 Cawthon, S. W., Garberoglio, C. L., Caemmerer, J. M., Bond, M., & Wendel, E. (2015). Effect of parent involvement and parent expectations on postsecondary outcomes for people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. Exceptionality, 23(2), 73–99.

6 Darley, J. M., & Gross, P. H. (1983). A hypothesis-confirming bias in labeling effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 20–33.

7 de Laat, S., Freriksen, E., & Vervloed, M. P. J. (2013). Attitudes of children and adolescents toward persons who are deaf, blind, paralyzed, or intellectually disabled. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34, 855–863. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2012.11.004

8 DeLambo, D. A., Chandras, K. V., Homa, D., & Chandras, S. V. (2007). Adolescent attitudes toward disabilities: What every school counselor needs to know. Georgia School Counselors Association Journal, 14, 30–38.

9 Foster, S. (1988). Life in the mainstream: Deaf college freshmen and their experiences in the mainstreamed high school. Journal of Rehabilitation of the Deaf, 22(2), 27–35.

10 Furnham, A., & Gibbs, M. (1984). School children’s attitudes towards the handicapped. Journal of Adolescence, 7(2), 99–117.

11 Furnham, A., & Lane, S. (1984). Actual and perceived attitudes towards deafness. Psychological Medicine, 14, 417–423.

12 Higgens, P. (1990). The challenge of educating deaf and hearing youth: Making mainstreaming work. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

13 Hindley, P. (2000). Child and adolescent psychiatry. In P. Hindley & N. Kitson (Eds.), Mental health and deafness (pp. 42–74). London, United Kingdom: Whurr Publishers.

14 Humphries, T. (1975). Audism: The making of a word. (Unpublished essay).

15 Hung, H-L., & Paul, P. V. (2006). Inclusion of students who are deaf or hard of hearing: Secondary school hearing students’ perspectives. Deafness and Education International, 8(2), 62–74. doi:10.1002/dei.190

16 Kiger, G. (1997). The structure of attitudes toward persons who are deaf: Emotions, values, and stereotypes. The Journal of Psychology, 131(5), 554–560.

17 Labelle, S., Booth-Butterfield, M., & Rittenour, C. E. (2013). Attitudes toward profoundly hearing impaired and deaf people: Links with intergroup anxiety, social dominance orientation, and contact. Western Journal of Communication, 77(4), 489–506.

18 Lane, H. (1992). Masks of benevolence: Disabling the deaf community. New York, NY: Alfred Knopf.

19 Noonan, B. M., Gallor, S. M., Hensler-McGinnis, N. F., Fassinger, R. E., Wang, S., & Goodman, J. (2004). Challenge and success: A Qualitative study of the career development of highly achieving women with physical and sensory disabilities. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 51(1), 68.

20 Schroedel, J. G., & Carnahan, S. (1991). Parental involvement in career development. Journal of the American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association, 25(2), 1–12.

21 Stinson, M. S., & Liu, Y. (1999) Participation of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in classes with hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4(3), 191–202.

22 Stuart, A., Harrison, D., & Simpson, P. (1991) The social and emotional development of a population of hearing-impaired children being educated in their local, mainstream schools in Leicestershire, England. Journal of the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf, 15(5), 121–125.

23 Vignes, C., Godeau, E., Sentenac, M., Coley, N., Navarro, F., Grandjean, H., & Arnaud, C. (2009). Determinants of students’ attitudes toward peers with disabilities. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 51, 473–479.

24 Weisel, A. (1988). Contact with mainstreamed disabled children and attitudes towards disability: A multidimensional analysis. Educational Psychology, 8(3), 161–168.

This document was developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, OSEP #HD326D160001. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

© 2019 National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes, licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International

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